For me, this year began in Russia, standing outside of Red Square amongst throngs of people. After three or four the-clock-has-struck-twelve explosions of cheer (not any of which I’m sure were correct), Emma and I turned to find that all exits were blocked, so we began walking in a direction we’d never been, knowing at some point it would all work out. Eventually, we were able to board the Metro at Pushkin Station, some ways down the road. About an hour later, when we emerged from underground, the whole world had changed, turned white with a sudden snow flurry, and the empty streets we’d left early that evening had filled with kids, families, dogs, sleds, and noise.
At that point, I’d submitted two pieces of travel writing, both of which got favorable responses but, ultimately, weren’t accepted for publication. Whatever the case, the two submissions, on Dec 17 and Dec 20 of 2011, marked the beginning of what has turned into the most successful year of writing in my life. That said, it has been much the same as that walk to Pushkin Station, setting off with little certainty of where I was going, only that it was time to get home and this was where to start. Somehow I would arrive where I needed to be.
That January, I began to write and read insatiably about travel, built a personal website, started a themed twice-weekly blog, and submitted work at a rate none of my years as a grad school student or aspiring fiction author ever saw me do. In those first months, it was as I’d always been taught: Getting published only came at the end of a mountain of rejections. It wasn’t until April, nearly a third of year and some twenty-five rejections, that I finally tasted my first toast to being a paid writer: A small online magazine, On a Junket, purchased an article for $55 about a snobbish backpacker I met in Malaysia. At last, there was some verification that someone would buy my work.
The success fueled me, and in the month of April, I sold another, a guide to starting an EFL career, to a respected and long-standing travel site called Transitions Abroad. Then, another about great websites to use in and out of the classroom (also to Transitions) a week later and from there, I was off, both with the writing and from Russia. Months of sitting amongst steaming radiators, frosty windows, and fold out sofas came to close, and in May, Emma and I moved back to Guatemala, where I would sit amongst hungry travelers, avocado trees, and swaying hammocks.
The morning after we’d arrived, despite having stayed up and imbibed far too many IPAs, falling down the stairs on the precarious walk to our cabin, waking up with tender ribs and scraped toes, I got up early to do what I’d been doing the entire year. I climbed up to an empty hotel lodge (well before any guests would be awake), flicked on the coffee machine, found a comfy chair tucked in the corner, and kept trying. In June, I sold more EFL-themed pieces to Transitions and an article about New Year’s in Moscow to Go World Travel. In July, I published more, BootsnAll, settling for an author’s note and links to my site and blog as payment, an effort to beef-up my credits and further establish myself in the industry.
It was slow and steady, but more and more pieces were accepted. In turn, I began to accept that this had become more than experiment, much more than the previous novel-in-a-month or writing group attempts I’d made in the past. Though I hadn’t become rich or wildly successful, I’d managed to shake the “aspiring” that had so long adorned the front of who I wanted to be: a writer. Maybe I wasn’t earning a living, but I was finally earning my chops.
By year’s end, I’ve sold and/or published eighteen different pieces of writing with online magazines, written nearly sixty blog entries on my own website, assisted with half a dozen NGO newsletters for Unfinished Picture Project and Las Manos de Christine, and began something that I’ve been dreaming about since, as a twelve-year-old boy, I penned my first poem.
Still, I am but a sapling stretching for sunshine in the shadows of mountains like Rolf Potts, Pico Iyer, and the other titans of travel. I’m miles away from being commissioned to write things, from the New Yorker or book tours as opposed to volcano tours. I’ve never pitched an idea in a query letter or seen my name in an actual print publication, which for many—those of us who attended university more than a decade ago—is the only true marker for being a published writer. In short, there is still so much work to be done, so much to learn about writing stuff I expect people to buy and how to get it into those people’s hands.
I’m doing things I never saw myself doing, things I never considered part of writing: posting and promoting shamelessly on Facebook, leaving my secure place in the age of paper and emails to begin tweeting, Link(ing)In, and joining every damn social media outfit that might advance my “art”. The nuts-and-bolts of selling my writing has destroyed any of the mystic, mythic visions of composition Jim Morrison and Jack Kerouac instilled in my brain. And, in some part, I suppose that return to earth is what makes me feel like it has begun for me. It is no longer a dream, but something of which I’m in the thick of, scratching and struggling and plotting my way up.
In the coming year, I will grow and strive to outdo this year’s success. I’ve enrolled in an online travel writing course and am once again subjecting myself to the type of workshop setting that, in graduate school, destroyed my will. It’s the next step I have to make, a full embrace of the community I’ve joined: travel writing, like, for real money rather than a byline in a literary magazine. I’ve planned a new blog format to diversify, organized new ways to expand my readership, and brainstormed those writing projects on which I will begin the next leg of this endeavor. My vision has grown something akin to reaching the end of a tunnel, seeing a whole new landscape to explore before you.
As for being a writer, I don’t know if I’ve emerged to find that same world of white winter, the magic that happened between Pushkin Station and home last New Year’s night, but I know I’m at least headed in the right direction. Sincere thanks to all those who have supported me for the last year, who’ve waded through my articles and blogs, Liked them, tweeted them, commented, and reassured me in times of doubt and despair, when the next step still felt so far to go. I hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure as much as me and, even more so, that my riding partners continue to saddle up, follow those links, and find out where this takes us.
This blog occurs once a week, the entries being thematically mixed between expat life in Guatemala and life as an NGO groupie. The photos for this blog, website, and my life are all provided by my beautiful wife Emma.